Leadership can come in many different forms – and sometimes from unexpected places. Most companies employ troops of Millennials – young people who are learning the ropes of business. You know, those jean-clad 20 something people who support executives, do entry-level tasks and are being groomed for the future of business. While their business acumen will be fine tuned over time, they know a little something about social media. Meanwhile, today’s executives are often seasoned veterans of business typically are what David Weinberger calls “digital immigrants” – new to the digital world and still learning the culture and the skill sets of digital participation.
At Leader Networks, we often work with organizations to help integrate social leadership into the fabric of a company – we go into an organization and study how technology is being used internally for knowledge share, competitive intelligence, sales efforts, recruiting and collaboration. We make changes based on best practice and tailor programs to help a company achieve their goals.
One of the most common finding we encounter is a lack of digital leadership sends the wrong signals to staff – when executives don’t use social media strategically or simply don’t use it at all, the organization learns by example that social leadership is not a priority. This is an unintentional outcome. While leaders are saying social leadership is important, when they don’t act accordingly, the message is diffused and therefore rarely embraced.
The most common reason for lack of social leadership is unfamiliarity with the tools and best practice of social media. This is a problem that is (somewhat) easily solved. On a number of occasions we have put in place “reverse Mentoring” programs to pair leaders with Mellennials to help educate and to support change. Once senior leaders become familiar, skilled and “enculturated” into social media usage, they are then able to speak – and lead – by example.
Foundations for Reverse Mentoring Program
There is an opportunity to create a reverse mentoring program that uses the talents and social media experience of Millennials to educate leaders from a different generation learn about the tools and approaches for digital engagement. These programs bring together different groups of people who would not typically be collaborative due to seniority structure of their roles (senior staff are typically comfortable with Mellennials as they are often the age group of their children). So, within a private setting, senior leaders and Mellennials can surf, Tweet, create LinkedIn accounts etc. and also grow relationships and bonds that can be beneficial to both participants – and to the organization at large.
The design of a Reverse Mentoring Program (RMP) needs to fit into the culture of the organization in order to be most effective. The basic elements of a Reverse Mentoring Program could include the following:
- Issue a formal call to action to build the Millennial Mentoring Corps and make it a big deal internally. It helps build morale and organizational value.
- Clearly define the duties of the RMP including time commitment, feedback cycle and rewards system.
- Offer standardized training to all RMP volunteers (Make sure each volunteer RMP member gains their supervisors OK for them to participate).
- Create a recognition program to help RMP volunteers self-identify (ie.“I am a RM”) and gain internal support for their efforts. Including participation on quarterly MBOs is also a good idea.
- Clearly define the RMP activities so that recipients of the RMP corps know what to expect when they are partnered with a RMP volunteer.
- Match up RMP and senior staffs accordingly, facilitate introductions and timing for first meeting through an organizing team (HR or Diversity Group).
The RMP Program should be flexible to allow for different levels of support. Some senior staff may want 2-3 sessions of short duration (30 minutes each) in a clustered time-frame, while others may want 1 hour every 4-6 weeks. Ask senior staff and accommodate their needs. Be sure to gather feedback from senior staff about interaction and training usefulness and make adjustments to partnerships and continue to grow the RMP program over time – it shouldn’t be a one-time deal. Instead, continue to add to the RMP volunteer group and continue to invite senior staff to participate over the course of the year. And, be sure to gather 360 degree feedback so you can grow the program over time and assess its efficacy. This is a great way for an organization to begin their journey into Social Leadership and support a collaborative culture where all members of the community are valued and rewarded for what they bring to the table of learning.